Related Issues

  • Review/138/06: Don't make another Darfur: Geneva Talks for Peace in Sri Lanka, 25 October 2006
  • Review/137/06: Sri Lanka's proposed International Commission of Inquiry: OHCHR, eminent organisations and persons - watch out, 18 October 2006
  • Review/136/06: Proposed Sri Lankan Peace Talks: The Karuna factor, 11 October 2006
  • Sri Lanka: Terror Vs State Terror

    “Sri Lankan security forces rounded up children to be recruited by the Karuna faction” – Mr Allan Rock, Special Adviser to the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

    I. Recruitment of child soldiers by the Sri Lankan army

    The complicity of the Sri Lankan security forces in the recruitment of children by the Karuna group in the Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka could not have been more emphatic. In order to ensure independence and impartiality, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms Radhika Kumaraswamy, a Sri Lankan national, did not undertake the mission. Mr Allan Rock, Special Adviser to the U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict undertook a 10-day visit. 

    On 13 November 2006, Mr Allan Rock announced that a section of the armed forces have been actively aiding and abetting the Karuna group in recruiting child soldiers after abductions from the Government-controlled areas of the East, particularly in Batticaloa district, to fight the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Children as old as 13 and 14 years were being kidnapped from villages but no arrests or investigations were being carried out by the government. Mr Rock claimed that his findings were based on “eye-witness evidence”.

    These revelations are nothing new. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) earlier confirmed incidents of abduction of children from nearby security camps in government-controlled areas using unnumbered vehicles. As the Sri Lankan authorities accuse the SLMM of partiality whenever it suits them, the imprimatur of the United Nations was indispensable. The Karuna group has been Colombo's trump card and recruitment of the child soldiers could not have been done without the complicity of President Mahinda Rajapakse's administration. The stated policy of “zero-tolerance policy” on the recruitment of children as combatants by the Sri Lankan government has turned out to be a big lie.

    II. LTTE and Karuna group's responsibility

    The recruitment of child soldiers is a war crime as per the statute of International Criminal Court.

    Both the Karuna faction and the LTTE reportedly assured Mr. Rock that they will immediately start working with UNICEF to stop child recruitment and release all the child soldiers. The LTTE reportedly assured to work with the UNICEF “with the objective of completing that process by January 1, 2007

    In 2003, the LTTE had agreed with both UNICEF and the Sri Lankan government to release all child fighters and allow them to be kept in rehabilitation centers, where they could receive care and counseling to help them rejoin society. But as Mr Rock reported, “The mission's initial findings reveal that the LTTE has not complied with its commitments under the Action Plan to stop child recruitment and release all the children within their ranks. Under-age recruitment continues and the LTTE have yet to release several hundred children as verified by UNICEF”.

    Rather the recruitment of child soldiers only intensified with the increase in hostilities. 

    Since May 2006, 135 cases of under-age recruitment after abduction by the armed opposition groups have been reported to the UNICEF.

    However, on 15 June 2006, the LTTE alleged that more than 125 children were abducted by the Karuna group since the Sri Lankan army launched cordon and search operations in Batticaloa district on 13 June 2006. These included more than 75 youths from Valaichenai area, 27 youths from Kiran and 23 youths from Santhiveli. Many youths arrested by the Sri Lankan army during the cordon and search operations were allegedly handed over to the Karuna group for forcible recruitment.

    According to UNICEF, as of 31 August 2006, there were 1545 outstanding cases of under age recruitment by the LTTE. Of these, 643 were under the age of 18, and 902 were recruited while under 18 but have now passed that age. There were also 101 outstanding cases of under age recruitment by the Karuna group. UNICEF estimates that its database only reflects a third of the actual number of children recruited.

    On 14 November 2006, unidentified gunmen reportedly abducted four Tamil teenagers, aged 14-18, working on tsunami reconstruction project in eastern Batticaloa district.

    III. No respect for international humanitarian laws

    The Sri Lankan government has unleashed State terrorism since the collapse of the Geneva talks of February 2006 between the LTTE and the government.

    The Sri Lankan government has been accused of targeting the LTTE symphatisers. On 10 November 2006, a pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance Member of Parliament, Nadarajah Raviraj, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in broad daylight in capital Colombo. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the killing of Mr Raviraj but the needle of suspicion points towards the security agencies.

    The Sri Lankan security forces have also been targeting the civilians. On 2 November 2006, at least 5 civilian members of a family were reportedly killed when their house was bombed by Sri Lankan air force jets in Kilinochchi, a LTTE stronghold. Kilinochchi's main hospital was also partially damaged due to the bombings, affecting the healthcare delivery system.

    On 8 November 2006, at least 45 civilians, including children, were reportedly killed and 125 were wounded in an artillery firing by Sri Lankan army at an IDP camp in the town of Kathiraveli near Vakarai in eastern Sri Lanka. SLMM confirmed deaths of 23 civilians and stated that the actual casualty could be many more. The LTTE put the number of those killed at 100. Some 2,000 people were living in the camp.

    IV. Terror Vs State Terror

    President Mahinda Rajapakse while rejecting the findings of Mr. Allan Rock announced an “immediate and thorough investigation” into the allegations and “hold accountable those who are responsible” if the allegations are proved correct.

    Earlier, on 6 November 2006, the Sri Lankan government announced the formation of a special committee headed by India's former Chief Justice Mr P N Bhagwati to investigate into the alleged human rights abuses committed by the army and Tamil Tiger rebels since August 2005. The inquiry committee will examine 15 major incidents, including the assassination of former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on 12 August 2005, a mine attack on a bus in June 2006 that killed at least 64 people including children, a suicide attack on a group of sailors in October 2006 in which 99 people died, an air strike in August 2006 which reportedly killed 61 schoolchildren, murder of 17 charity employees in the town of Muttur in August 2006, among others.

    The Rome Statute of International Criminal Court identifies “conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into armed forces or groups or using them to participate actively in hostilities” as a war crime. Sri Lanka is a fit case to be referred to the ICC for investigation into the violations of the Rome Statute. A special committee cannot address blatant violations of war crimes committed by all the parties in the conflict.

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